Backwell businessman new boss at Clevedon Town AFC

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By Prue_Reid | Wednesday, October 31, 2012, 09:32

For Backwell businessman Steve Spicer his life-changing decision to buy Clevedon Town Association Football Club resulted in swapping a corporate suit for casual shorts and a T-shirt to go to work.

But these aren't the only changes for Steve when, with his family's support, he went out and bought a struggling non - league football club.

He also kicked out of play a long commute replacing it with a short drive just down the road from his village home.

For new boss Steve his goal now is to increase the number of people coming through the turnstiles, to ensure the team wins promotion and develop The Hand into a premier sporting complex used by all ages.

The Davis Lane gate for Saturday matches has dwindled to 110-120 while only a decade ago more than 400 people would support their local team every week.

Steve said: "We have a capacity of 3,500 people here.

"It's a wonderful stadium with a very good football team so what we're trying to do is to get people to come on Saturdays and see for themselves.

"New players Scott Murray and Alex Russell from Bristol City are big name players and we hope people will come to watch them as well as the mix of youth and experienced players in the current team."

Clevedon is one of the oldest clubs in the West Country with a history dating back to the 1880s.

It moved to its current ground at The Hand in the early 1990s and its 21-strong first team squad plays in the Evo-Stik League Southern - Division One South & West.

It has had a handful of colourful and charismatic owners and managers in recent years and once had the front page award-wining headline in the Clevedon Mercury saying 'Town sold for a pound'.

This was when it had more than £1 million of debts.

Ownership eventually fell to Bristol Rovers director Barry Bradshaw who bought the club for £300,000 in 1997 after the previous owner went into receivership.

In turn he sold it to a property investor in a deal worth £750,000 little over a year ago.

Then along came Steve who was at a loose end before buying Clevedon Town AFC after leaving his London-based job with Vodafone.

Good mates with manager Mickey Bell, the former Bristol City professional who lives in Nailsea, Steve was asked to come and do some consultancy with the club.

Steve said: "I was first invited in here as a consultant because the football club was struggling financially and needed to be revitalised.

"It was struggling to meet its financial obligations and was sliding perilously close to the edge and was facing a threat of closure."

He saw the potential of the whole site and negotiated a long term lease with Butcombe entrepreneur Mark Lewis who owns the freehold.

As well as the stadium with its large 300-seater stand and Astroturf, Steve has inherited a building which houses a function room and nightclub with bar, conference and training rooms.

And on July 1, for an undisclosed sum, Steve signed on the dotted line and became managing director of the company set up to run the site, Enigma Entertainments (South West) Ltd, and chairman of the football club.

The result is Clevedon Town AFC is no longer a tenant renting the pitch from a landlord but part of the total business operation, said Steve.

Steve is married to Rebecca and the couple have two children, Jordan, 16, and 13-year-od Henry who both go to Backwell School.

The Manchester United fan was born in Brighton and played football in his youth for Southampton and in his late teens for Brighton and Hove Albion under the legendary manager Brian Clough.

He met his wife when they both worked for Axa insurance group at Parkway.

Steve like Mickey is ambitious for Clevedon and wants his first team to win promotion to the Conference South in the next two to three seasons.

Steve said:  "We'd like to see ourselves pull to the top of the league this year and be strongly challenging for promotion and if we don't make it this year we would be absolutely gutted not to get promoted next year."

Since Mickey came onboard in the summer of 2010 Clevedon Town FC has achieved great success in cup competitions winning The Red Insure Southern League Cup, beating Premier Division team Banbury United 2-1 on aggregate, and then were narrowly beaten 2-1 by Blue Square Conference South outfit Weston-super-Mare in the Somerset Premier Cup Final.

As coach they have recruited Paul McLoughlin, another Nailsea resident and former Cardiff City player.

The youth side of football is being encouraged and developed with local schools, North Somerset Football Development Academy and Clevedon Town AFC is fielding an u18s team in a Thursday floodlit league.

Other sports like rugby, hockey and sixa-side soccer teams are being encouraged to book the floodlit Astroturf for training and games.

The building was given a £150,000 plus major refurbishment by the landlord in the past 12 months with the view to attracting more banqueting and business bookings.

Steve laughed when asked if buying the club with a big chunk of his savings and not taking a salary until it is on its feet was a good career move.

He said: "It's absolutely brilliant - I get to come to work dressed in casual clothes.

"I did not want continue working as a corporate finance person just forecasting, planning, budgeting.

"It is fun here, I'm doing something I've never done before so I'm on a very steep learning curve and I thought I'd stopped learning and it is incredibly exciting.

"One minute I am out sitting on a tractor going up and down keeping the pitch in a good order.

"Then I'll be scrapping sand off the Astroturf so it's in a perfect condition before painting its white lines.

"Then I'll be talking to football club sponsors and I'll be here on a Saturday afternoon entertaining in the hospitality suite.

"In my previous role all the variety I had was do that spreadsheet or do that other spreadsheet."

He still gets to balance the books and order the beer.

But in November Steve is launching a more grown-up cabaret club with comedy nights, live bands and variety entertainment.

This will compliment The Vibe nightclub which is Clevedon's only late night venue favoured by the 18 to 30-somethings which boasts state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems and popular DJs.

Steve said: "We have been told it won't work and that Clevedon people don't like to go out and they don't want to come to The Hand stadium.

"We're going to test the water.

"I think we've got a much bigger chance of making it work than they think."

He has had lots of enthusiasm among his large friendship group for hosting parties and he hopes people will see it as ideal venue for wedding receptions and the 9am-5pm business meetings that he has left behind. 

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